jan_can_too (jan_can_too) wrote,

The forest and the museum

Last Sunday, Brent and I went hiking in Muir Woods and yesterday the kids and I went to the Berkeley Art Museum (and ate Blondie’s Pizza in Sproul Plaza, of course!). So I’ve been thinking about the purpose of beauty and will probably become boring, abstract, and semi-philosophical from here.

In the woods, at first I mostly thought about my calves. The trail went up for more than a mile and my calves did not enjoy it, having had the new ballet habit to adjust to. Eventually, the quiet of the place seeped through, as well as the height of the trees and the general greenness of the surroundings. Roots and rocks sprouted from the path. Ferns draped the hillsides. Water trickled in the streams. The air felt mossy and alive in my lungs. The trees pulled my eyes up, toward the sky and its patches of light.

Most of the plants I saw are nameless to me. I have not got Lewis’s facility with botany. (I wondered about his expedition and poison oak, but haven’t taken the time to look whether it grows in those climates. If it does, it seems almost impossible that they wouldn’t have suffered from it.) What that means is that every plant is fresh to me, the particular green of its leaves, the woody twist of its stem.

When we came out at last at the top of the trail into the sun and ate our lunch on a giant boulder, able to see the ocean over waves of trees, my body felt satisfied, peaceful, connected to the rightness of the world.

What I saw in the museum had a different effect. We went because T.R. learned about Hans Hoffmann in school. He has been to the Berkeley Art Museum many times, but now, it seems, is the receptive moment. We started at the bottom of the museum, looking at Hoffmann’s squares and the things he did to them across his paintings. That was one of the points of the instructor he had: the interaction of squares. Having that in mind changed how I saw even his less abstract work, bringing out the way the shapes jostle across his canvas, whether or not they resemble objects in my experience.

T.R.’s favorite piece was a giant construction of black sink drainage pipe and white plaster. It was the kind of sculpture that makes me itch to touch it and climb on it. Fortunately, fierce docents in blue t-shirts protect the art, chewing gum and making notes on clipboards. Syd mugged me for a pen and paper and crouched at the edges of the galleries making notes; he didn’t reveal what he liked best.

The featured exhibit, Borderlandia, explores the work of Enrique Chagoya. His work assembles icons of culture and watches them take each other apart. It’s not easy or comfortable to look at what he creates. At its best, the work speaks for social change. At its worst, it feels like it has escaped from ephemeral editorial cartoons. I am glad to have seen it because I feel like I have been stretched, but I don’t need to see it again any time soon.

What I liked best? A series of photos in another gallery. They show the intimate and beautiful texture of stone walls, what I could perhaps describe as the intersection of the museum and the forest.

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